This Lowcountry gem is much more than your usual collection of moss-draped live oaks, blossoming rose bushes, and vibrant azaleas—though you can certainly find all three (plus your fair share of palmettos) in the expansive gardens. Built on the site of four former rice plantations in Murrells Inlet (about 30 minutes from Myrtle Beach ), Brookgreen Gardens features a sculpture garden containing the country’s largest collection of American figurative sculpture, a history and wildlife preserve, and a zoo.
The 9,100-acre property started as private retreat for Archer Huntington and Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1930. Anna, a notable sculptor, envisioned the splendid gardens as the perfect home for her figurative sculptures, but fate had a much grander plan. Not two years after the couple bought the property, it was incorporated under South Carolina law as a private, not for profit called “Brookgreen Gardens, a Society for Southeastern Flora and Fauna.” More akin to an outdoor museum than a garden, Brookgreen’s mission has remained the same since its inception. The gardens exist to collect, exhibit, and preserve American figurative sculpture, Southeastern animals, and Southeastern plants.
Today, visitors from all over the world come to see the awe-inspiring gardens that include 250-year-old trees in Live Oak Allée, a multi-wing Butterfly Garden filled with beautiful flowering plants and an array of native plants. The Palmetto Garden, added in 1950, is an iconic spot where you can see the Sabal palmettos, and the Fountain of the Muses Garden displays the iconic sculpture of the same name. The garden’s collection of American figurative statues remains a huge draw for visitors. The fact that Brookgreen is home to more than 2,000 sculptures from 430 artists is impressive, but its their seamless integration into the natural world that makes them truly special. We’re used to seeing important sculptures under harsh lighting inside the stale walls of a museum, not shining in the sun surrounded by verdant plants and flitting butterflies.
The sculptures and gardens are the main attraction at Brookgreen, but their supporting characters are equally important. Walk the Lowcountry Trail, a scenic boardwalk that crosses the hillside overlooking a restored rice field of the former Brookgreen Plantation. Along the trail, interpretive panels describe life on the plantation for enslaved people and point out the remains of four former structures. The Lowcountry Trail Audio Tour (free with garden admission) tells a fictional story about life on Brookgreen Plantation as you meander along the boardwalk. Guests can also book an interpreter-led pontoon boat ride, Trekker safari-style ride, or mini-bus ride to further delve into Brookgreen’s history. The last piece of Brookgreen’s puzzle is the Lowcountry Zoo, which focuses on animals native to South Carolina. Animals include alligators, bald eagles , grey and red foxes, hawks, owls, river otters, white-tail deer, ducks, herons, and egrets.
It would be unfair to typify Brookgreen as solely a garden. It’s a garden, but it’s also an art museum. It’s a historical site, but it’s also a wildlife preserve. And it’s that unique combination of art, history, and nature that has kept people coming back for almost a century.
brookgreen.org , 843-235-6000, 1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576